Q&A with Central High School principal Paul Kunde

When did you start being the principal at Central?

“Well this is my 25th year in education total, I’ve spent some time in Spring Lake, Ravenna and Hamilton. In 2006 I had the opportunity to come to Grand Haven which is home to me and my family and I became the principal here at Central High School and I have been here ever since.”


What else have you taught/done other than being the principal at Central?

“I was a teacher for many years, I taught mainly social studies, I was also a football coach, high school assistant principal, athletic director and this was my first principal job.”


How is Central different from Grand Haven High School?

“So Grand Haven has two high schools, we have two high schools intentionally. Grand Haven High School is our comprehensive school, it’s everything under one roof, it’s a great high school doing great things and for 95 percent of students going to Grand Haven High School, it works just fine. But there is a segment of the student population that the high school is just too big and is too much for them and they get lost. So these students come here. We are a much smaller school we cap out at 125 students, we cannot have any more than that because I don’t have enough furniture for any more than that.”


“Another component of us is cyber school which is another 100 students and then our career development program that right now is 15 students and the outcome of that program is a GED, that is for students whose lives have dictated to them for whatever reason they need to get on with things either with work, school, career or whatever it is they need to get done with school. We are very fortunate in this community to have that, there are a lot of communities that don’t have that and for the kids that come here it gives them the opportunity to get a high school diploma that is equivalent to any diploma in the state of Michigan.”


How is the learning environment different here than at Grand Haven High School?

“The content is all the same, the students here are learning the same information. The big difference is our structure, we operate on what is called a block schedule, so we have four nine-week quarters instead of two semesters. We have four classes a day versus six, so each class each day is 90 minutes. So the classes are longer and the students have extra time in class to do homework and get extra help from teachers. Class sizes are much smaller they are around 20 students.”

“I find that the key to success at Central is attendance, just being here. There is a direct correlation between students that attend and pass their classes and those who miss often fail.”


Is there anything you think is unique at Central?

“We have a dog, we are a high school that has a dog and a playground, now our students don’t use the playground, it is reserved for the child services program for the open door kids in the back which is unique, we are a high school that has a young kids program in it those things I think are unique. The small classes sizes are also different, that is very unusual for a high school. Those are the good parts, but the constraints are that since we are a small high school we don’t have everything that’s available at Grand Haven High School, we don’t have choir, band, orchestra, our students have the ability to participate in athletics and we do have few. But the things that students have at the big high school we just don’t have here, all the different classes and opportunities we do not have enough staff or space to be able to provide those things.”


How many teachers/staff do you have at Central?

“I have 7.75 full-time teachers, one of which is here for three quarters of the year.”


Do many students participate in athletics?

“We typically have about four to five a year, most students that go here have jobs, a lot of them do not have the ability to get home after practice, transportation constraints are a big part that’s why many choose to not participate in sports. We let them know when athletics are so they have that information and have the option, we try to push that out there and the number seems to be growing.”


When do students start going to Central?

“Typically sophomore year, it’s not a hard rule, but we want a student coming from middle school to start at Grand Haven High School for at least a year. Ultimately we want our students to graduate from there, we try and make sure that students spend at least a year at Grand Haven before they decide to come here. About 98 percent stay here and graduate here, we get a few who transfer back and spend the last semester there to graduate from there (GHHS).”


How do you respond to the stereotypes about Central being a school for ‘bad kids’?

“I deal with it all the time, I have parents who come in and they are looking at Central for their kids and I am always up front with them in saying that I bet you think this is where all the bad kids go, but it’s simply not true. Mr. Roberson at the High School puts it best, he will say to parents that there is nothing going on at Central that is any worse than what is going on at Grand Haven High School times 10. Because of the size, I actually think that this environment is better, I often have to remind myself of how well the students here do, I have been here since 2006 and have broken up four fights, total. Which is pretty cool, do we have issues, yes. But all high schools have the same issues. The students here are very kind, considerate, understanding and its much more relaxed.”


“I get that question a lot, there is that perception that it’s the school where all the bad kids go, but we have done a lot to try and overcome that but I think it’s the perception from 20 years ago. That is simply not true, we have kids who go on and do great things in life just like the big high school.”


What have you done to overcome this stereotype?

“Community involvement, we try and get our kids out into the community with volunteer opportunities, we worked on the new imagination station, we bring people in from the community to interact with our kids and see what they are like, so they understand that they are not bad kids.”


Is there anything you want the community or students at Grand Haven to know about Central?

“I have talked about this a few times with different community groups over the years, I think there are some people who are starting to understand this but for the most part, Central kids stay here, they are our neighbors for the rest of their lives. Unlike students at Grand Haven who are more likely to leave. So I have had some community members step up and support these students because they know that these kids will be their neighbors. I think it is important to support Central High School, we celebrate all the amazing things that these kids do because they are still part of Grand Haven even if they go here.”


How are the students here different?

“Central is considered an at-risk school, so many of the kids come from low economic backgrounds, we have a lot of free or reduced lunch students. About 70 percent are, unlike Grand Haven which is about 30 percent. Which makes a big difference in the needs of students, we have a large food and clothing pantry that students can use, no questions asked. We also have showers here for students to use.”